SoCS: what became of my engagement ring

When B and I became engaged, he gifted me with a diamond ring. We shopped for it together several months after our engagement began, choosing a simple solitaire setting which we had lowered so that it wouldn’t hit the keyboard if it turned diamond down while I was playing the organ. The following spring, it was joined by a simple gold wedding band.

I wore my rings that way for years, but some problems developed. My pinkie finger developed a callus where the diamond would rub against it. It would sometimes crack open, which was very uncomfortable. Over time, I gained a bit of weight, which made the once loose fit a bit too tight. I took to just wearing my wedding band most days.

Ten-ish years ago, I decided to make a change. I brought my rings to a local jeweler with an idea. They removed the diamond from its setting and used some of the gold to re-size my wedding band while preserving the original engraving inside. The diamond was re-set into what I call a family ring. The diamond represents the April birthday of daughter E. There is a November topaz for B, a pink zircon for me (October), and alexandrite for daughter T’s June birthday. The alexandrite is especially interesting because it looks purple when I’m indoors but a blue-green in sunlight.

I don’t wear my family ring all the time but I love it when I do. Even when I’m not wearing it, I love knowing that it exists, the four of us safely connected even when we are physically far away from each other.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “ring.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/11/13/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-14-2020/

in the middle of a nightmare

The pandemic has been more severe in the United States than globally for months – and now things are getting worse very, very quickly.

Yesterday, there were over 159,000 new cases diagnosed, which broke a record set the day before. There are entire states that are out of intensive care beds – or hospital beds in general. In some states, hospitals have to triage patients and turn some away who would benefit from care in favor of other patients who are sicker but have a higher chance of recovery.

Some places are so short-staffed that COVID-positive staff are continuing to work if their symptoms allow.

The hospitalization rate is also a lagging indicator. If the hospitals are this stressed now, what will the situation be in two weeks, given the huge numbers of new diagnoses this week?

I’ve reached a new level of dread.

New York State, where I live, still has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. Governor Cuomo is tightening restrictions on gyms, indoor dining and gatherings, as well as further ramping up testing and contact tracing in hot spots. Unfortunately, after all these months, there is an outbreak among residents in the skilled nursing unit of my father’s senior living community, as well as a number of staff members. The health center is in a separate building from where Paco lives in an apartment, so we are hoping the virus won’t spread, but it is very worrying for all of us.

And what, you may ask, is the Trump administration doing to address the explosion of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths?

Nothing.

Vice-president Pence, who chairs the coronavirus task force, finally held a meeting this week after several weeks without doing so during the campaign. There were no new actions or recommendations after the meeting.

Meanwhile, President-elect Biden has named a first-rate committee of physicians and public health experts to set up the plan against COVID for his administration, which will begin January 20th. Unfortunately, because the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge that Biden will be taking office, the Biden task force does not have access to the current plans in development for vaccine deployment, distribution of supplies, etc., which is an appalling and dangerous state of affairs.

What is even more appalling and dangerous is that, with the situation becoming more and more dire daily, the Trump administration is making no attempt at all to save people for illness, disability, and death.

I’m finding the level of stress and dismay crushing.

People desperately need help now.

January 20th is still a long way off.

post-election

I was relieved when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were projected winners in the US election, becoming president and vice-president elect. Some say that those terms should not be used until the vote is certified in each state or until the electoral college meets in December but it has been common in past election cycles to do so and I’m observing the norm.

While there are still ballots being counted, it is clear that Joe Biden has comfortable margins of victory in enough states to have earned the presidency. Election officials and volunteers of all political persuasions are continuing to work hard to complete the final tallies of the record number of ballots cast. Despite the pandemic, attempts by both foreign and domestic actors to suppress the vote, postal service slowdowns, and unfounded accusations of malfeasance, this election saw the highest percentage of voter turnout in more than a century.

When Biden was reported as the projected winner on Saturday morning, spontaneous celebrations broke out around the country and around the world. Although there were some demonstrations with upset Trump supporters, there was not an outbreak of violence as many had feared. Congratulations poured in from around the nation and the world. On Saturday evening, Harris and Biden gave moving victory speeches, recognizing the historic achievement of the first woman and first person of color to become vice-president and calling for national unity to combat the pandemic and rebuild our economy and society. There has been particularly moving coverage of the impact of Kamala Harris’s election among girls, particularly those of African or Asian descent, who are excited to see someone who looks like them about to become vice-president.

Unfortunately, President Trump refuses to accept the reality that he has lost the election. Even more unfortunately, many of his supporters believe his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Perhaps most distressingly of all, many other Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are refusing to acknowledge that Biden has won the election.

This has delayed the official mechanisms that facilitate a smooth transition between administrations. While the Biden/Harris team is moving forward with their governing plans for after the inauguration on January 20th, most notably the convening of a coronavirus task force comprised of physicians and pubic health experts, they do not have access to all the current government personnel and assets that they need because the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration refuses to ascertain that Biden has won the election. With so many pressing issues, it is vital that these resources are available to the Biden-Harris transition team as soon as possible.

On Saturday morning, I wrote a simple message of congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Facebook. I did get one angry face as a reaction among the thumbs up and hearts, which I understand. There was also a negative comment that I wound up deleting because I don’t allow unchallenged falsehoods, conspiracy theories, or profanity on my social media. I remain committed to thoughtful dialogue and hope to be able to engage in some as the opportunity arises in the coming months.

I started writing this post early this morning and it is now late afternoon, so I will close, but, someday, I’ll write a post about my background that might prove elucidating about how my mind works.

Stay tuned.

Calling on Republican Senators

As I write this, the US presidential race has not yet been called, although it is likely to be called later this weekend for Joe Biden. This would mean that Kamala Harris, as vice president, would preside over the Senate, with the power to break tied votes.

We also don’t know what the final make-up of the Senate will be and we won’t know until January as the state of Georgia, in a highly unusual circumstance, will have run-off elections for both of their Senate seats in January.

Regardless of the final composition of the Senate in 2021, I am making a plea to those Republican senators who actually want to help craft legislation and govern the country rather than engage in obstruction under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell.

I think that those senators should form their own caucus. Their first act would be to vote for Sen. Chuck Schumer as majority leader, so that House-passed legislation would actually be considered in the Senate rather than gathering dust on McConnell’s desk as it has been.

They would then meet with the Democratic caucus on a regular basis to offer their ideas for advancing bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems, which could then be enacted and signed into law. I’m sure that the Democrats would gladly agree to this solution to the Senate gridlock that has prevailed for years.

In my mind, some senators who might consider such an initiative are Sen. Romney of Utah, Sen. Collins of Maine, Sen. Murkowski of Alaska, and Sen. Toomey of Pennsylvania. Perhaps Sen. Sasse of Nebraska. They would not necessarily have to leave the Republican party to become independents, although some with strong support in their home states might be able to do that, thus obviating the threat of a primary challenger.

A lot would depend on what becomes of the Republican party without Trump as president. Will it attempt to revert to being a traditional conservative party or continue in the rather haphazard counter-factual populism it has exhibited in recent years? Would even the willingness to engage in bipartisanship be enough for the Republican leadership to kick out any senators who dared to attempt it?

In the House, the Democrats will still hold a small majority, but there might be some Republicans willing to form a similar caucus to help craft and advance bipartisan legislation.

Joe Biden has a long history of bipartisan cooperation as a senator and as vice president and has been speaking for months about restoring unity to our deeply fractured country.

Republican members of Congress, how do you respond to this call? You swear an oath to the Constitution which proclaims that our government is to “form a more perfect union” and to “promote the general welfare”.

Are you willing to act for the good of all people or only that segment that voted for you?

Update: A few minutes after I posted this, Joe Biden was projected the winner and is now President-elect. This will mean Vice-President Kamala Harris will preside over the Senate and have the power to break tie votes.

SoCS: journalists

Journalists in the United States have been working overtime to keep us all apprised of the latest facts in the election. I’m very grateful for their hard work and their expertise.

So, this post will be short so I can get back to watching. Another group of votes from Pennsylvania is due to be announced any minute.

Confession: I’m watching as I write.

Yay, journalists!

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is a word containing jour. Join us! Learn how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/11/06/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-7-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

Election Day

B and I baked an election day pie early this morning with an important message: VOTE! We did early voting last week and will be watching television coverage as the returns begin to come in this evening, by which time our tummies will be full of our fruits-of-the-forest pie. Today’s rendition is made with apples, raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb.

some assembly required

As I wrote about Saturday, I’m not doing what I expected I would be today, arriving in London, UK for a month, with two weeks in quarantine and two visiting family, including meeting our newest grandchild JG.

I had spent weeks making arrangements for the trip, letting lots of other things, such as writing blog posts, slide. Instead, I spent a lot of time on the phone and online covering personal and family obligations for the four weeks of the trip plus the two weeks of quarantine required by New York State when we returned. I, along with B and T, also spent hours and hours organizing and cleaning the house to be ready for my sisters to stay here to be on hand for our dad, known here as Paco, while we were away. I had planned time to work on my poetry collection while we were in quarantine. I also had some reading and blogging work lined up.

And now, I need to figure out how to organize myself for the next six weeks.

And in general.

Again.

Still.

In my experience, the thought that I can organize my life and have things go according to plan is an act of hubris or, perhaps, folly. Over these last decades, my life plans have seldom unfolded as envisioned. Things happen. Priorities change. Plans get abandoned or put on hold. This is not a complaint, but an observation.

I know I have limited control, yet I somehow feel the need to make a plan when I sense there is a turning point, or, at least, a juncture when circumstances have changed.

A consequence of the household re-organizing we did to get ready for my sisters to come house-sit is that, for the first time in almost four years, B and I have moved back into the master bedroom, which we had given over to daughter E when she moved back home for almost three years while waiting for her spousal visa to be approved in the UK. The nearby room that had served as ABC’s nursery has now become B’s at-home office; his office building closed in March due to the pandemic and no one knows if or when it will re-open. My desktop computer is now in a guest room upstairs, opposite where T’s room is and has been throughout all the rest of the configuration changes. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are more organized than they have been in years.

I suppose the first part of my plan should be to keep things clean and organized, which would be an ongoing chore as I don’t enjoy cleaning and organizing. One of the things that made the task of getting ready to leave so daunting was the psychic strain of dealing with sorting and packing cards and other memorabilia from the last few years which included my mother’s final illness and death and E and ABC living with us. In truth, I will most likely never have a minimalist house, especially as we are storing things from both my and B’s parents’ homes and our adult daughters’. Some of it may migrate to E and T eventually…

But I digress. There is some hope that I can use our new configuration to my advantage, such as getting used to writing sequestered with my desktop rather than my laptop in the midst of the household.

The larger issue may be to de-clutter my mind. Over these last few years, when intergenerational care responsibilities have been my primary focus, I have gradually been shedding more and more of the things that used to occupy my time, such as extensive research and commentary on environmental/social justice issues and on women’s equality in the Catholic Church. I still care about those things and keep up on them to an extent, but I have let my membership in a lot of the related organizations lapse as I attended to in-person responsibilities. Admittedly, my email inbox is still overflowing with news – and requests for money – from too many entities, but I’m hoping to whittle down further after the election to free up more time and brainpower for other things.

It’s not that I don’t still care about these issues. I am heartened by the convergence of social and environmental justice issues that has happened this year and I will continue to lend support, but I will do it through a few select organizations with which I have a special connection, such as NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby that I joined in observance of the Jubilee in 2000. I am also heartened by the witness and energy of the Millenials and Gen Z in this convergence of social, racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice and will gratefully support their leadership with what experience and wisdom I can offer.

I’m hoping that 2021 will bring a new administration and Congress to Washington that will restore functionality and care for the common good to our national government. The last four years have been disturbing and exhausting and keeping up with the news has become an obsession and a time sink. I’m hoping to get back to a place where it doesn’t take so much energy to keep up with the news so that I can concentrate on writing and other mental work.

One of the very immediate conundrums is that I have to wrap my head around being at home on election day this Tuesday. We voted early last Monday and I had myself mentally prepared to be in London, five hours ahead as the election results began to come in. Instead, I think I will be staying up late Tuesday night into the wee hours of Wednesday, as results begin to be reported. We all know that the vote count will take several days, but the early numbers may allow some states to be called on election night. I’m hoping that everyone – the politicians, pundits, and public – will stay calm and that there will be an orderly transfer to a new administration and Congress.

Personally, I’m hoping that I will be able to spend more time writing. I promise that will include some blog posts, although I’m sure I will never be the on-topic, on-schedule blogger-type. I most want to write more poems and do revisions to produce a new version of my collection that centers on the North Adams MA area where I grew up and to which I have returned as a member of the Boiler House Poets Collective. Optimally, I’d like to have it together by spring so that I can do a manuscript review with my poet-friends. I also need to do some more submissions for my chapbook. Rejections have been coming in and two contests that I had planned to enter this fall have been pushed back, so I will need to hunt out more opportunities. I should also send out some individual poems to journals; I’ve been ignoring this for the most part over the last several years but need to get back to it.

I suppose I’d better plan some time for writing holiday cards and letters…

I also need to factor in time for essential shopping and errands for our household and for Paco. The pandemic and the supply chain problems it has caused have made shopping a major undertaking. It has also changed the way I help Paco, as I try to minimize time indoors his senior community’s building. Eventually, when there is widespread vaccine use, I’ll be able to resume regular in-person visits, but for now I am trying to deal with most things by phone and quick drop-offs.

I don’t know whether or not I can make some semblance of a schedule for myself or a plan to better work toward these goals. I had some hope as I started to write this post yesterday, but now I have all the uncertainties of the election, the pandemic, and personal life swirling about in my head.

But, hey, here is a long blog post about to be published, which is in line with my goals, so….

Progress?

Stay tuned.

And send good vibes.

early vote

This is the first presidential election year that New York State has had extensive in-person early voting. Because B, T, and I were planning to be out of the country on election day, we decided we would avail ourselves of that opportunity rather than voting absentee by mail, an option that was expanded this year to include fear of illness to protect people from exposure to coronavirus.

Across the country, there were long lines for early voting but no one knew how New York voters would respond. There was also no historic basis from which to plan. The first day of early voting was Saturday, October 24. We reasoned rightly the first weekend would be busy, so we planned to vote on Monday afternoon.

It was still very busy. It took us two and a half hours to vote, most of which was spent standing in a social distanced and masked outdoor line. Just as we were near the door into the library polling place, the line stalled. It turned out that one of the two ballot printing machines had stopped working, so the final check-in took longer, but all the election workers, volunteers, and people in line were very patient and respectful.

Because the lines were long, the county board of elections added more early voting hours so that wait times would be shorter.

I was glad to see so many here and across the country making themselves heard through their votes. The US has historically had low voter turnout and I’m hoping that the energy around voting this year will mark a new era of greater civic participation.

Our votes and voices are important. We all need to vote and make sure that our votes are counted. We also need to be patient while the counts are completed and certified.

It’s been a looooooong election season but it’s almost over. Stay strong, everyone!

SoCS: unwelcome news

It’s Halloween, which is traditionally a day for “trick or treat.” This has usually been mostly treats with very few tricks, but my family is suffering from a trick this year.

My spouse B, daughter T, and I have been planning for weeks to spend the month of November in London, UK, visiting daughter E, son-in-law L, granddaughter ABC and meeting new granddaughter JG in person for the first time. We were going to need to quarantine our first two weeks there, followed by two weeks for visiting, and returning to two weeks of quarantine back here in New York State. We had re-arranged appointments, stocked freezers and refrigerators for our housesitter and for my father, made a bunch of care arrangements for him, etc. etc. etc.

And now, everything is cancelled.

The UK, which, like much of Europe, is suffering a COVID spike, is instituting a raft of new restrictions which make travelling for leisure there impossible.

We are sad not to be able to see our family. We had planned to have JG’s baptism while we were there. Not only is our trip cancelled but the baptism will also need to be postponed.

When we planned the trip months ago, the spike wasn’t expected until winter, so we had hoped to sneak in before things got bad. The reality was that summer holidays started more cases and, when people went back to school and work, the case numbers went up quickly.

Of course, here in the US, the country has never had the pandemic tamped down across the country. We are lucky to be in New York State which has been able to keep its rate pretty low compared to most of the rest of the country, but the country as a whole is suffering record numbers of illness and death.

The prospect of winter making things even worse is horrifying.

I wish I could say that we would know when in 2021 we could safely travel to London, but it is unknowable. I guess I’ll just say sometime in 2021, we’ll get there.

Will JG be crawling by then?

Or walking?

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “trick.” Join us! Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/30/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-31-2020/

My US Supreme Court plan

In a comment to this post on my refraining from watching the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, I promised my thoughts on the future of the United States Supreme Court, so here is my attempt to weigh in on a very fraught civics topic. Please note: This is my personal opinion as a citizen. I am not a lawyer or someone with a degree in public policy. This is my brainstorming on the basis of common sense, fairness, and trying to codify what had previously been expected to accord with good governance and ethics.

In the design of the Constitution, the judicial branch is co-equal with the legislative branch (Congress) and the executive branch (president and executive agencies). Its function is to interpret the Constitution and laws. In recent years, the courts have been politicized. The impartiality of their judgements is called into question by the machinations of the politics around their appointment by the president and confirmations by the Senate.

The process as written in the Constitution is that the president nominates individuals for open seats on the various federal courts with the Senate’s advice and consent. Since Mitch McConnell has been Republican majority leader of the Senate, he has failed in his Constitutional duty to give Senate hearings and votes to nominees made by Democratic president Barack Obama, most (in)famously in the case of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland but of dozens of nominees to lower federal courts, as well. During the Trump presidency, McConnell has busily filled those seats with Trump’s very conservative nominees, even when those people have been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.

This is an unfair practice but not technically illegal because there are not specific statutes on how the Senate gives advice and consent. My plan begins with codifying what had previously been expected, timely consideration of a president’s court nominees. I propose that all nominees to the federal bench have their Senate hearings begun within sixty days of their nomination and a confirmation vote by the full Senate for those who are advanced by the Judiciary Committee taken within ninety days. The exception would be for a vacancy to the Supreme Court in a presidential election year. A vacancy that occurs on July first or later would be held open for the winner of the presidential election that November.

My sense of fairness also calls for some remedy to the McConnell machinations that have skewed the federal courts to having more Republican appointees than there should have been. If Biden is elected, I think he should be able to make two immediate nominations to the Supreme Court, one for the seat that should have been considered for Merrick Garland because Antonin Scalia’s death was prior to July first in 2016 and one for the seat that will presumably be filled by Trump after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. This basically applies the principle that would be codified in the new law. I envision these two seats as temporary. Going forward, Supreme Court openings would be filled by Democratic (or independent) presidents as usual; Republican (or another conservative party that might arise out of the current maelstrom) presidents would forfeit the next two openings that occur during their presidencies, gradually reducing the Supreme Court back to nine justices.

A similar remedy might be able to be applied to the other federal courts, looking at seats that McConnell blocked from being filled by President Obama as a basis.

This is not a perfect solution, as it will not restore the balance and integrity that the courts would have had without these abuses of power, but it would at least give a legal structure to prevent a repeat in the future and some measure of accountability to the parties that acted unfairly.

Another court reform that is being discussed is to put a term length on what are now lifetime appointments. I have mixed feelings about this. I like the concept of lifetime appointments because it removes any thoughts of a justice deciding in a certain way in order to influence their re-appointment for an additional term. On the other hand, it bothers me that there are justices who were rated as “not qualified” or who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment or lying under oath who will serve for a lifetime on the federal bench. If a term of service is imposed, it should be long, on the order of eighteen or twenty years. I would leave the option available for the president to re-nominate a justice for Senate confirmation. As much as I might like to apply a time limit retroactively, I don’t think this is a good idea. For better in some cases and worse in others, those approved as lifetime appointments should be able to remain in those positions.

For the record, there has been much talk about the Democrats, if they control Congress and the presidency, “packing the Court” meaning adding seats permanently to the Supreme Court. This term is meant pejoratively. I think the Democrats will definitely pursue court reform which is needed to prevent what Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has termed “court-stacking” – the Republican gamesmanship that has resulted in the current skewing of the courts toward justices nominated by Republican presidents.

The idea of temporarily adding seats and exacting a penalty against future Republican/conservative presidents is something that I dreamed up on my own, not something that I have seen proposed elsewhere, proving once again that you can never tell what might be top of JC’s Mind.

By the way, in tangentially related Senate procedure, I propose that the filibuster return to its traditional role as a tool to convince other senators to support one’s position. If a senator wishes to filibuster a nomination or piece of legislation, they may take the floor to talk about the issue as long as they wish. When they finish, debate ends and the measure is brought to the floor for a vote. In a body that already gives outsized influence to states with small populations, forty-one of one hundred senators should not have the ability to permanently block what the majority of senators wants to enact.